Over the past three days, two D.C. area restaurants have shared stories of irate customers assaulting and harassing workers after the employees requested guests obey government-issued orders to wear a face mask while ordering food.
The Greek Spot, a casual staple off U Street NW where Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor is known to stop by for gyro platters, shared on its Facebook page that a man “assaulted and threatened” one of its employees Monday. Owner Kosta Dionisopoulos tells Washington City Paper that a female employee working behind a counter asked the man to put on a mask before entering the restaurant and write down his name for contact tracing purposes. Dionisopoulos says the man called his employee a bitch, threatened to empty a bucket of water on her, and pelted her with everything within reach: plexiglass, a tip jar, and desserts. The owner says he had to close the restaurant for more than an hour and sent his shaken-up employee home with a full day’s pay.
A day earlier in Old Town Alexandria, a man reportedly pitched a fit at an Ethiopian cafe, Abyssinia Market & Coffee House, after owner Lily Damtew told him he had to wear a mask inside. Damtew tells ALXnow the man spat at her feet, called her the “B-word and F-word,” and mocked her by taking a mask she offered him and wearing it over his eyes while wandering around the store and asking, “Is this okay?” Damtew called police and followed the man to make sure he left, but he came back and vandalized windows and tables by throwing “some kind of food or something” on them. ALXnow reports police arrested the man, and Damtew is pressing charges — but she was uncomfortable enough to keep the market closed Monday.
The law in D.C. and Virginia requires restaurant customers to wear masks inside businesses unless they’re eating or drinking. Wearing a mask is a safety measure to protect others from being exposed to the respiratory droplets that spread the novel coronavirus. The use of masks has become politicized as an issue of personal freedom as politicians in states such as Georgia, Florida, Texas, and South Carolina have taken an aggressive approach to reopening that puts frontline food workers at risk.
Food service workers at restaurants and grocery stores across the country have taken similar abuse from entitled customers furious about having to wear masks. At their worst, these attacks have escalated from spitting and racial slurs to gun violence. Arguments over masks have led to customers shooting workers at a Family Dollar in Michigan, an Oklahoma City McDonald’s, and an Alabama Waffle House.